tips for safe online shopping |
At $100, the laptop you just found
online makes for an amazing deal. Good thing you finally left those
big retail Web sites and searched on smaller ones whose domain names
you've never heard of. Otherwise, you would have never discovered
this incredible price.
The Web site itself looks legitimate, too. Its checkout
page has legal disclaimers and asks for the usual billing and shipping
information. It says it's secure.
But is it?
If you don't know from whom you're buying, and are
simply praying for good luck after sending your payment over the
Web, you're setting yourself up -- and not just for losing money.
You're risking your personal information, and it's time for a rude
It makes sense that security is not always a bedfellow
of convenience. Open 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world,
online shopping sites entice consumers with an array of come-ons
such as free shipping, comparison pricing, bargain deals and extra
security features. Saving gas, and being able to shop on your schedule,
adds more to the online shopping appeal.
Yet, the question remains for the leery: Can online
shopping be done safely?
The Internet security experts we spoke with say "yes"
-- on the condition that consumers abide by some basic safety tips.
1. Bigger names equal better protection.
"Go with reputable companies you've heard
of," says Jim Stickley, co-founder, CTO and vice president
of engineering at TraceSecurity, a company that works with financial
institutions to better their network security systems to deter identity
Stickley, who knows firsthand how easily sensitive
information is stolen, says that if a deal sounds too good to be
true -- say, $20 for an iPod Nano -- it probably is. What's worse,
it's probably an attempt to trick you into giving out personal information.
Steven Branigan, founder and president of CyanLine
and author of "High Tech Crimes Revealed" agrees and says
that it's good to know the site you're going to, such as the bigger
sites like Amazon.com. "These sites put their name on the line."
On the other hand, the fear factor hurts smaller merchants
who might have better deals.
One comparison shopping site, buysafeshopping.com,
solves both problems by bonding qualified merchants for up to $25,000
with Liberty Mutual, Travelers and ACE USA. BuySAFE puts merchants
through a screening process to verify the merchant's identity, online
sales experience and ability to deliver the purchased items. If
a retailer passes that process, buySAFE is willing to stand behind
them with its purse, says Jeff Grass, CEO and president, and Rob
Caskey, senior director of buyer marketing.
2. When in doubt,
check them out.
If you go with an unknown merchant or Web site, contact someone
you make a purchase. Ask if they'll send you a catalog.
"If they don't list phone numbers and only have
an e-mail address, that's a huge red flag," Stickley says.
"Call the phone number and see if it goes to voice mail. Anyone
can have voice mail set up."
Bottom line: If you can't get a human being on the phone or don't
like what you're hearing, go shopping somewhere else.